Non League and Sunday League Football

Pelé: The King of Football

By Alex Morrey-Jones


On December 29th 2022, the Brazilian footballing icon, Pelé, sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer. There is no doubt that Pelé was one of the most talented and influential football players of all time. He changed the game forever and is one of the most decorated players to ever grace a football field. However, Pelé’s impact and legacy is far greater than just his achievements on the pitch.

“The greatest player in history was Di Stéfano, I refuse to classify Pelé as a player. He was above that.” –  Ferenc Puskás. 


Known largely by his nickname, Pelé, he was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940 and began playing for Santos aged just 15, and made his debut for the Brazilian national team at 16, scoring on his debut for both club and country. Spending 19 seasons at Santos in Brazil, Pelé scored a staggering 618 goals in 636 appearances, averaging almost a goal a game.

“The best player ever? Pelé.” – Alfredo Di Stéfano. 


The forward signed for New York Cosmos aged 34 and spent two years at the American club, scoring 37 goals. Pelé’s final ever game as a player was an exhibition match between Santos and New York Cosmos, with the Brazilian playing one half for both teams. The match was televised around the world and the crowd included a number of sporting legends including Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore. The final goal of his career was a 30-yard free-kick for Cosmos as they beat Santos 2-1. Pelé won 25 trophies with Santos and added two more with Cosmos in 1977.

“When I saw Pelé play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots.” – Just Fontaine, top scorer at 1958 World Cup. 


Despite his incredible achievements at club level, Pelé’s legacy with the national side is what fans will remember most. After making his debut for the famous ‘Seleção Canarinho’ against Argentina aged 16, Pelé went on to became arguably Brazil’s greatest ever player. To this day, he remains the only player to win three FIFA World Cups, leading his nation to glory in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He had lifted the trophy twice by the age of 21. No player in Brazilian history has more international goals than Pelé, as he and Neymar both have 77 to their name. Following his breakthrough at the 1958 World Cup, he was nicknamed “O Rei” meaning “The King” in Portuguese, aged just 17. A global icon.

“Pelé was the most complete player I’ve ever seen, he had everything.” – Bobby Moore. 


Many regard Pelé as the greatest to ever play the game, especially by those who were fortunate enough to witness him play. He was said to always be playing with a smile on his face, and enjoying and loving “the beautiful game”, an expression that he famously popularised. He was two-footed, could score, dribble, find teammates with seemingly impossible passes and just about do anything with a ball at his feet. He could score free-kicks and penalties and had an exceptional work-rate, making him an incredible team player and an asset all over the pitch. Brazil manager, João Saldanha, was once asked who was the best goalkeeper in his squad. He said Pelé.

“How do you spell Pelé? Easy. G-O-D.” – Paddy Crerand. 


Following his retirement from football, Pelé began embarking on new challenges, he was appointed an Ambassador for UNESCO Goodwill, organised charity matches for UNICEF and was even given an Honorary Knighthood in 1997 by the late Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

“Pelé is the greatest player in football history, and there will only be one Pelé.” – Cristiano Ronaldo. 



The Brazilian also published several autobiographies, starred in films and even composed the soundtrack for the 1977 documentary “Pelé” about his life. He also helped with bids for 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both held in his home country. His other charitable work included attending the 2012 Hunger Summit at 10 Downing Street alongside Prime Minister David Cameron and becoming an ambassador with various charities in Brazil.

“I sometimes feel football was invented for this magical player.” – Sir Bobby Charlton on Pelé. 


In 2016, Pelé raised over £3.6m for charity by auctioning off memorabilia he has collected throughout his career. A truly selfless individual who never stopped helping others.

“Pelé was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic.” – Johan Cruyff. 


The Brazilian icon will be missed around the world, as his legacy lives on and reaches far beyond the realms of football and sport. A once-in-a-lifetime athlete and a once-in-a-lifetime human being.

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